By Jessica Farrish
Walking into The Dish Cafe in Daniels, as co-owner Michelle Rotellini will tell you, is walking into a melting pot where metro-meets-mountain.
The warm walls and modern lighting meld into a relaxing and trendy ambience similar to eateries in Washington and Charlotte, but the friendly service and familiar faces will remind diners that they’re home in West Virginia.
Even the location — just a short drive down Ritter Drive into Daniels — is far enough from Beckley to feel like a jaunt, yet close enough to be convenient.
Kids will love the individual televisions at the booths, and adults may appreciate the extremely high-end wine list and a full-service bar that serves up specialty drinks like chocolate and pumpkin martinis.
“If you want a night out with your husband or a family dinner after church, we have great ambience,” said Rotellini. “It’s like a double whammy at The Dish.”
The menu reflects the same fusion of universal vision and local passion, blending sophistication and farm-freshness into an eclectic collection of dishes that are as pleasing to the most discriminating palate as they are nutritious.
From the homemade red pepper hummus dip and The Dish falafel salad to the Hey Jack Burger (Angus beef with a fried egg, house-made pimento cheese, cherry pepper slaw and habanaro jack cheese on a homemade bun) and Roquefort Society Bread (housemade flatbread topped with red grapes, Roquefort cheese, fresh rosemary, drizzled with local honey), the menu is an offering of culinary delights that focuses on flavor and freshness.
Rotellini explained that the owners are committed to regionally grown fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef and hormone-free pork and poultry.
The food isn’t laden with artificial sweeteners or food dyes.
“The Dish Cafe concept was created by myself and a group of partners that wanted to offer healthier food choices to our community,” said Rotellini. “We felt the community understood that real food tastes better and that they would appreciate having that here.”
The “real food” Rotellini means is food that’s as fresh, natural and local as possible.
Even the snack favorites like fried pickles, cheese fries, firecracker shrimp, chicken tenders and Cafe wings are freshly made with high-quality ingredients and don’t have preservatives.
“At The Dish, we’re trying to put things on our menu that we can find and use local ingredients for,” said Rotellini. “What we’re really just trying to do is to help people discover real flavors of food ... and flavors that are distinguishable on their own account.”
Rotellini said buying fresh vegetables and fruits that haven’t been genetically modified and doused with pesticides results in better-tasting salads, sandwiches and other dishes.
Some diners who aren’t into healthy eating appreciate dishes solely for the flavor.
“There is definitely scientific data to show when you aren’t using pesticides on fruits and vegetables, they taste better,” said Rotellini.
She explained that many farmers, in efforts to mass produce bigger tomatoes out of season, blast their crops with pesticides and introduce changes into the plant’s DNA (a process known as genetic modification).
Consider the tomato.
“It seems like you go into a restaurant, and you get this slice of tomato that is just texture, it has no flavor,” she said. “Those things grown so quickly have no taste.”
That bland tomato is the result of a farmer using pesticides.
“When you leave off the pesticide and let them grow naturally, the plants actually produce their own chemical defenses that keep the bugs away,” Rotellini explained. “Those chemical defenses actually flavor the fruits and vegetables.
“Real food tastes better. You’re going to be able to distinguish in the flavors, be able to taste what a tomato tastes like or what greens really taste like.”
Rotellini said greens, used in most salads, are actually as varied in nuance as wines.
Locally grown greens aren’t washed in pesticides so their flavors are able to be savored.
“At Greenbrier Nursery, they’re growing all these different greens, and they all have names that describe their flavor,” she said. “The Spicy Mix, Sunflower Green, all these things are superfoods, grown without the use of chemicals.”
Taste isn’t the sole reason for choosing “real foods,” said Rotellini. Healthier foods mean a healthier body.
“When you introduce chemicals into your body that your body is not familiar with, it’s as if you would eat an inorganic object like plastic or cardboard,” said Rotellini. “So your body will store things it can’t use for fuel.”
Good things found in natural foods get used quickly or stored in the body for later use, some studies show, she said.
“When it’s a foreign, genetically modified ingredient, it gets stored in your fat,” she said. “It may not harm you, but it may also be released and be toxic to the body later.”
The Dish Cafe fruits and vegetables come from Greenbrier Nursery, and the eggs and honey are by Jeff Atha’s Irish Hill Farms in Fayetteville.
The fish is wild-caught, she said, and all poultry is natural.
The beef is from grain-fed cattle raised at Swift Level Farm in Lewisburg, where no hormones or antibiotics are used.
“Their cattle actually eat organic and drink fresh spring water, and you can really distinguish that in the flavor of the meat,” said Rotellini.
Breads (except for the pita) are made at The Dish with organic flour and agave nectar.
“When you eat our bread, it’s fresh,” she said. “It doesn’t have any preservatives in it, so it actually will mold after three days.”
Some dishes are made for those who must watch glucose levels.
“We really do try to work with the dietary needs of our community,” she said.
For those who want to eat healthier at home, Rotellini suggests they follow the same methods that The Dish Cafe staff follow in getting foods. She advised that they shop local farmer’s markets for fruits, vegetables and eggs and seek out locally grown beef whenever possible.
“Support local farmers,” she said. “There are a lot more local farmers than what people realize.”
In grocery stores, she said, nearly everything in the “inside aisles” (those that are surrounded by the dairy, grains and produce sections) are laced with preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients.
Decorated by Pam Fox of Fleur de Lis in Daniels, The Dish Cafe offers a private room for parties and live entertainment on weekends, hosting local entertainers like Backtimers, Randy Gilkey, Majestic 12 and Common Houses.